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Zafra vs Court of Appeals

G.R. No. 139013, 17 September 2002


*for review on certiorari

A transfer amounts to constructive dismissal when transfer
is unreasonable, inconvenient or prejudicial to the employee
and involves a demotion in rank or diminution of salaries,
benefits, and other privileges.

Facts:
- Zel T. Zafra was hired by PLDT on October 1,
1984 as Operations Analyst II with a monthly
salary of P14,382 while co-petitioner Edwin B.
Ecarma was hired as Junior Operations Analyst I
on September 16, 1987 at a monthly rate of
P12,032.
- Both were regular rank-and-file employees
assigned at the Regional Operations and
Maintenance Control Center (ROMCC) of PLDTs
Cebu Provincial Division. They were tasked to
maintain the operations and maintenance of the
telephone exchanges in the Visayas and
Mindanao areas.[2]
- March 1995, petitioners were chosen for the
OMC Specialist and System Software
Acceptance Training Program in Germany in
preparation for ALCATEL 1000 S12.
- Petitioners left for Germany on April 10, 1995 and
stayed there until July 21, 1995.
- July 12, 1995, while petitioners were in Germany,
a certain Mr. R. Relucio, SwitchNet Division
Manager, requested advice, through an inter-
office memorandum, from the Cebu and Davao
Provincial Managers if any of the training
participants were interested to transfer to the
Sampaloc ROMCC to address the operational
requirements therein.
- The transfer was to be made before the
ALCATEL exchanges and operations and
maintenance center in Sampaloc would become
operational.
- Upon petitioners return from Germany, a certain
Mr. W.P. Acantillado, Senior Manager of the
PLDT Cebu Plant, informed them about the
memorandum. They balked at the idea, but
PLDT, through an inter-office memorandum
dated December 21, 1995, proceeded to transfer
petitioners to the Sampaloc ROMCC effective
January 3, 1996.
- Petitioners left Cebu for Manila on December 27,
1995 to air their grievance to PLDT and to seek
assistance from their union head office in
Mandaluyong.
- PLDT ordered petitioners to report for work on
January 16, 1996, but they asked for a deferment
to February 1, 1996.
- Petitioners reported for work at the Sampaloc
office on January 29, 1996. Meanwhile PLDT
moved the effectivity date of their transfer to
March 1, 1996. On March 13, 1996, petitioners
again appealed to PLDT to no avail. And,
because all their appeals fell on deaf ears,
petitioners, while in Manila, tendered their
resignation letters on March 21, 1996.
Consequently, the expenses for their training in
Germany were deducted from petitioners final
pay.
- September 11, 1996, petitioners filed a complaint
with the National Labor Relations Commission
Regional Arbitration Branch No. 7 for alleged
constructive dismissal and non-payment of
benefits under the Collective Bargaining
Agreement.
- In their complaint, petitioners prayed that
their dismissal from employment be declared
illegal. They also asked for reinstatement
with full backwages, refund of unauthorized
deductions from their final pay, including
damages, costs of litigation, and attorneys
fees.
- Respondent PLDT, for its part, averred that
petitioners agreed to accept any assignment
within PLDT in their application for employment
and also in the undertaking they executed prior to
their training in Germany. It prayed that
petitioners complaint be dismissed.
- On December 1, 1997, the voluntary arbitrator
issued a decision which reads:
o Declaring that complainants were
illegally dismissed by reason of the
forced resignations or constructive
discharge from their respective
employment with PLDT;
o Ordering the reinstatement of
complainants without loss of seniority
rights and other privileges, and
granting the award of full backwages
from April 22, 1996, inclusive of
allowances granted in the CBA or their
monetary equivalent computed from
the time complainants compensation
were withheld up to the time of their
actual reinstatement, or in lieu thereof,
ordering the payment of separation
pay with full backwages;
o Ordering the refund of P35,721.81 to
complainant Zafra and P24,186.67 to
complainant Ecarma, which amounts
constitute as unauthorized deductions
from their final pay;
o Ordering payment of P50,000.00 as
moral damages; P20,000.00 as
exemplary damages and P20,000.00
as refund for litigation expenses;
o Ordering payment of 10% Attorneys
Fees computed on all adjudicated
claims.
- PLDTs motion for reconsideration of the above
decision was denied.
- PLDT initiated a special civil action for certiorari
with the Court of Appeals, which was treated as a
petition for review.
- December 22, 1998, the CA ruled in favor of
PLDT and reversed the voluntary arbitrators
decision.
- HENCE, FOR REVIEW ON CERTIORARI

ISSUE:
Whether or not the petitioners were constructively dismissed
and whether or not they were entited to reinstatement, back
wages and othe monetary awards

HELD: YES. (for both issues)
- The fact that petitioners, in their application for
employment, agreed to be transferred or
assigned to any branch should not be taken in
isolation, but rather in conjunction with the
established company practice in PLDT.
- The standard operating procedure in PLDT is to
inform personnel regarding the nature of their
work.
- Despite their knowledge that the lone operations
and maintenance center of the 33 ALCATEL
1000 S12 Exchanges would be homed in
Sampaloc, PLDT officials neglected to disclose
this vital piece of information to petitioners before
they acceded to be trained abroad. On arriving
home, they did not give complaining workers any
other option but placed them in an either/or
straightjacket, that appeared too oppressive for
those concerned.
- Needless to say, had they known about their pre-
planned reassignments, petitioners could have
declined the foreign training intended for
personnel assigned to the Manila office. The lure
of a foreign trip is fleeting while a reassignment
from Cebu to Manila entails major and permanent
readjustments for petitioners and their families.
- SC are not unaware that the transfer of an
employee ordinarily lies within the ambit of
management prerogatives. However, a transfer
amounts to constructive dismissal when the
transfer is unreasonable, inconvenient, or
prejudicial to the employee, and involves a
demotion in rank or diminution of salaries,
benefits, and other privileges.
- In the present case, petitioners were
unceremoniously transferred, necessitating their
families relocation from Cebu to Manila. This act
of management appears to be arbitrary without
the usual notice that should have been done
even prior to their training abroad. From the
employees viewpoint, such action affecting their
families are burdensome, economically and
emotionally. It is no exaggeration to say that
their forced transfer is not only unreasonable,
inconvenient, and prejudicial, but to our mind,
also in defiance of basic due process and fair
play in employment relations.
- petition for review is GRANTED. The decision of
the Court of Appeals is REVERSED and SET
ASIDE. The decision of the Voluntary Arbitrator
is REINSTATED.